John Hostettler

John Nathan Hostettler (born June 19, 1961), is a Republican former member of the United States House of Representatives. Hostettler served six consecutive two-year terms, from January 3, 1995 to January 3, 2007, representing the 8th District of Indiana.

He lost his reelection bid for a seventh term to Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth in the 2006 midterm election, ending a twelve-year Congressional career. On December 3, 2009, Hostettler announced that he would challenge Senator Evan Bayh in the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Indiana, but lost the primary to former Senator Dan Coats.

Life Before Congress

John Hostettler was born in Evansville, Indiana as the eighth of ten children. He is of Swiss German descent. He grew up in rural Posey County near the Ohio and Wabash rivers.
After graduating from North Posey High School in 1979, he enrolled in Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) in 1983.

Later that year, Hostettler married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Ann Hamman. They live in Blairsville, an unincorporated suburban community near Evansville, and have four children. He is a member of Twelfth General Baptist Church in Evansville.

Prior to his service in Congress, Hostettler was a power plant performance engineer with Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company (SIGECO); he had received his PE license during his tenure.

Congressional tenure

1994 election

Prior to the early 1990s, Hostettler had little interest in politics; his only political activity had been primary and general election voting.

However, in January 1994 Hostettler announced that he would run against Democrat Frank McCloskey, a six-term incumbent, in the November election, who Hostettler claimed was among the House’s biggest-spending liberals. Hostettler also claimed McCloskey was too loyal to President Bill Clinton.

Hostettler was also inspired to enter politics after watching a television program by Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, interviewing Rev. Peter Marshall (son of the late Senate Chaplain Rev. Dr. Peter Marshall), whereby Rev. Marshall, historian and author, recounted a Christian Heritage of the United States of America.

Hostettler won 52%-48%, becoming the sixth challenger to oust an incumbent in the 8th since 1966. In part due to its volatile nature, the district is often called “the Bloody Eighth.”

Hostettler became part part of the 104th Congress, the first Republican majority in the House in 40 years. In subsequent years, Hostettler depended on his base of fellow social and fiscal conservatives to keep him in office. While southern Indiana has been traditionally Democratic, the 8th has always had a strong social conservative tint.

Despite having no political experience, Hostettler’s campaign was distinctive in several respects. One of Hostettler’s biggest assets in his run for Congress was his legendary “Red Army” or “Army of Red Volunteers.”

Parades and similar events would typically feature people of varying backgrounds wearing red tshirts with white lettering that simply stated Hostettler for Congress. A difference from typical campaigns was the volume of volunteer turnout and dedication of a core group.

Another unorthodox characteristic to the Hostettler campaign was extensive participation by family members, such as Karen Hammonds, Hostettler’s sister, as the office manager and occasionally more than that. Being only one of ten children, his brothers and sisters helped in different areas. Some attribute this as an area of success and influence that helped Hostettler achieve six straight victories.

Hostettler signed the Contract with America, but he told an Evansville Courier & Press reporter the day he signed it he didn’t support two provisions: a balanced budget amendment and term limits. He was one of only 40 Republicans in the House to vote in March 1995 against a constitutional amendment to set 12-year term limits for Representatives.

1996 election

In 1996, Hostettler defeated Democratic challenger Jonathan Weinzapfel 50%-48%. This was the narrowest win of his six Congressional victories. Weinzapfel later became mayor of Evansville.

1998 election

In 1998, with a total of 92,785 votes, he defeated his Democratic challenger, Evansville City Councilwoman Gail Riecken, with 52% to Riecken’s 46% of the vote.

2000 election

In 2000, with 116,879 votes, Hostettler defeated Democratic challenger Paul Perry, a surgeon, with 53% of the vote to Perry’s 45%.

Doctors for Hostettler, a group of 82 physicians operating in tandem with the Hostettler campaign, organized against the healthcare issues raised by the Perry campaign, a campaign that was healthcare-oriented almost exclusively.
Some attributed this organization as one of the critical factor in the 2000 election, as the subsequently inactive group’s statements played a role in the 2006 campaign.

2002 election

Redistricting after the 2000 census theoretically made the 8th friendlier to Hostettler. Heavily Democratic Bloomington was cut out of the district and replaced with more conservative-leaning Terre Haute. However, he defeated Democratic challenger Bryan Hartke by only five points—a narrower margin than 2000. He took 51% to Hartke’s 46% percentage of the vote. Hartke was the nephew of former Senator Vance Hartke.

2004 election

In 2004, he defeated Democratic challenger Jon Jennings with 53% of the vote. Interestingly, as the previous opponent had ties to Indiana politics, Jennings had the same name as Jonathan Jennings, the first governor of Indiana.

2006 defeat

In 2006, Hostettler’s Democratic opponent was Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth. Ellsworth is almost as conservative on social issues as Hostettler. Some saw very little difference between the two candidates, and speculation arose from others that Democrats had to run a clone of John Hostettler to win the district.

The National Republican Congressional Committee had spent $163,000 in his district as of mid-July 2006. (The DCCC, its counterpart, had spent $166,000 for Ellsworth as of that date.) He had never been a strong fundraiser; he never raised more than $800,000 in any campaign. Some attributed Hostettler’s refusal to accept any Political action committee money to his relatively low funding levels during campaigns.In part because of this, he was on somewhat less secure footing than conventional wisdom would suggest for a six-term incumbent.

As of early September, the Rothenberg Political Report called Hostettler one of the three most endangered House incumbents in the country; Chris Cillizza, political analyst for The Washington Post, ranked Hostettler as the most vulnerable House incumbent in the nation; and Robert D. Novak, a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, also rated Hostettler’s seat a likely win for Ellsworth.
In mid-October, an opinion poll commissioned by the Evansville Courier & Press showed Ellsworth leading Hostettler, 55% to 32%.

Hostettler debated Ellsworth on October 23, 2006. The debate was at public television station WVUT at Vincennes University, and involved the League of Women Voters.

In the November election, Hostettler was soundly defeated, taking 39 percent of the vote to Ellsworth’s 61 percent. His defeat was the first announced that night. The 22-point margin was the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent in the 2006 cycle, and the second-biggest margin of a defeat in a Republican-held district.

Hostettler was the only incumbent in either party who did not receive 40% of the vote, although a few Senators such as Rick Santorum and Mike DeWine came close. The 8th district vote tally for Ellsworth was only 1% shy of the same district’s tally for President Bush in 2004.

Post-congressional career

In mid-2007, Hostettler formed a publishing company, Publius House. He is currently working on his first book, Nothing for the Nation – Who Got What Out of Iraq. The book purports to examine the true motives of American political leaders behind the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Hostettler endorsed Chuck Baldwin, nominee of the Constitution Party.

In the 2008 presidential election. He spoke at the Constitution Party’s national committee meeting in Orlando, Florida, on December 12-13, 2008. Prior to his announcement on December 3, 2009, Hostettler was highly mentioned as a possible candidate to run against Evan Bayh in the 2010 Indiana senatorial election.

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